How to Plan for a Disaster and What to Do if You're a Disaster Victim

Record model and serial numbers for your big-ticket items. For insurance and property identification purposes, record the model and serial numbers for items such as your flat screen televisions, computer equipment, cameras, audio gear, musical instruments, or other valuable personal belongings. It is wise to photograph these items as well in order to prove possession and store the photos on disk and/or in an electronic vault so they can be easily retrieved.

The Money Papers You Need in Your Emergency Bag

Assemble a "crash kit." Pack a small suitcase or duffel bag with items such as sensitive documents, your wallet, purse, ATM and credit cards that you will need to grab in an emergency in order to secure them AND have 24-hour access to cash or purchasing power if needed. Also have your house, office and car keys close at hand. They may well provide access to secondary shelter.

Have a survival kit ready to go. Pack a separate bag with flashlights (LEDs preferred for battery life), extra batteries, a portable radio, a sharp utility knife, toilet paper, several bottles of water and energy food bars, a couple of lighters or match books, a portable first aid kit, other supplies and (of great psychic value) a few pairs of socks and underwear. Remember that you may well have to travel fast and light so be selective.

Keep your cell phones charged and bring chargers with you in the event of evacuation.

Consider utilizing the available special notification and alert features offered by many banks, credit and debit card issuers that will notify you via email or text when an unusual transaction occurs in one of your accounts – this is a good practice regardless of disaster planning.

If You Are a Disaster Victim

Protect important information and documents. Whether you're in a shelter, staying with friends or crashing on your family's couch, never let the documents that can authenticate you leave your sight.

Be proactive and check your credit report by visiting AnualCreditReport.com. Consider adding an initial security alert to your credit report. For more information go to the websites of each of the three major credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian and Trans Union). Monitoring your credit scores regularly, using a free service like Credit.com's Credit Report Card, can alert you to a problem if you have an unexpected drop.

Ask the post office to hold your mail until you return home. If it appears that you will be unable to return home for an extended period of time, you may even consider getting a post office box. This will keep thieves from finding sensitive materials that are left in your mailbox.

Store sensitive documents in an encrypted email account that you can access if needed.

When filing claims with insurance, if you did not do so before the disaster, ask if your policy provides identity theft assistance and what are the parameters of your coverage.

Check your credit card and bank accounts online daily. In the event you detect unauthorized or questionable activity, immediately contact the appropriate financial services provider.

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